Cablegate: Pakistan's Madrassas
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FM AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD
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RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI PRIORITY 8935
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ISLAMABAD 000653
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/29/2033
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM PTER PK
SUBJECT: PAKISTAN'S MADRASSAS
Classified By: Political Counselor Candace Putnam (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: The majority of Pakistan's 15,000-16,000 madrassas are registered religious schools that provide some level of learning combined with food, shelter and clothing for poor children. Only 4-5% of school-age Pakistani children attend madrassas. The problems emanate from the 1,000 or so unregistered madrassas, located primarily in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), many of which preach jihad and anti-Western themes. After an ambitious beginning, the GOP has shelved President Musharraf's madrassa reform proposals until the new government is formed after the February 2008 parliamentary elections. Animosities among madrassa oversight boards and the government, bureaucratic squabbles, funding delays, and the lack of a meaningful madrassa reform strategy will maintain the status quo in the short-term. End summary.
2. (C) Madrassas are privately run Islamic schools. Reliable estimates put the number of madrassas in Pakistan at around 15,000 to 16,000. The Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA) and data from Pakistan's 2006-2007 Economic Survey estimate that around 1.6 million students--four to five percent of the total number of school-going children--attend madrassas.
3. (C) Most of the madrassas in Pakistan are legitimate education centers; only a handful operate as jihadi recruitment centers. Post previously estimated around 150 madrassas are of concern for their close ties to terrorist and extremist groups, recruitment activities, and propagation of jihadi activity.
4. (U) The quality of teaching varies greatly at madrassas, with some offering an education that is comparable in quality and curricula to some of the better private schools in Pakistan, while others teach only religious subjects and push a latent sectarianism. Since Pakistan's inception, madrassas have been popular as they provide free schooling, food, and sometimes free room and board, to their students, giving poor families an opportunity to get their children at least some level of education at no direct cost.
5. (C) Private contributions fund almost all madrassa operations, but the level and sources of this funding remains unconfirmed. Many contacts cite Saudi Wahabi funding and narcotics-generated Taliban financing as a key sources of income for the more extremist madrassas. Unconvincingly, the Secretary of the MORA denied that any Pakistani madrassa receives foreign funding. Registered madrassas are supposed to list all sources of income, but the more problematic unregistered madrassas do not. Officially, less that 100 foreign students attend madrassas in Pakistan, and they can only do so with a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their respective home country.
Madrassa Organization and Oversight
6. (C) Five wafaqs (oversight boards) manage the curricula and direction of their affiliated sectarian madrassas: the Wafaq Madaras al-Arabia (Deobandi), Tanzeemul Madaras al-Arabia (Brailvi), Wafaq Madaras as-Salafi (Ahle Hadith/Salafist), Wafaq Madaras Ash-Shia (Shia), Rabat-tul-Madaras (Jamaat Islami). An additional board, the Ittehad-e-Tanzeemaatul Madaras-e-Deemia (ITMD), serves as an executive steering committee between the wafaqs and the government. Following a power struggle and subsequent resignations, a moderate Deobandi now leads the ITMD, but he leaves most decision-making to his hardline Barelvi Secretary General. The Ministry of Religious Affairs told us that over 75% of madrassas are affiliated with the Deobandi sect, which promotes a strain of Islam similar to the Muslim Brotherhood.
7. (C) MORA has administrative responsibility over madrassas; the Ministry of Education (MOE), however, in the past has tried to implement special remedial programs for madrassas with varying success. Madrassa reform meetings are chaired by the Prime Minister with participation from relevant ministry heads of Interior, Education, and Religious Affairs. MORA, however, lacks bureaucratic clout and funding, but has been the most successful in building trust with the wafaqs and getting them to agree to government initiated reforms through a more consensual approach than the one taken by either the MOE or MOI. Many observers believe that the MOE and MOI, as well as the wafaqs, unnecessarily politicized the reform process, parts of which the wafaqs had already (and independently) considered implementing.
Madrassa Reform: Past, Present, and Future
8. (C) Prior to 2001, the wafaqs initiated a round of reforms on their own, mostly focusing on the introduction of secular subjects to increase the overall level of education available to students. When the government became involved after 2001, state-sponsored madrassa reform initiatives focused largely on registering and auditing the madrassas and their finances, introducing secular subjects, standardizing the curricula, curbing hate speech, and expelling foreign students from the schools. To date, the government has taken little action against madrassas known to have jihadi ties (many in tribal areas where the GOP has little control, but other locations, including Karachi and the NWFP, also house such schools), and has had little success in expanding its influence and writ in these historically autonomous bodies, which bristled at the government's intervention.
9. (C) The government has achieved modest success registering madrassas in the past two years. Following the July 2005 London bombings, Musharraf renewed his commitment to reform and modernize madrassas and issued an Ordinance requiring schools to directly register with the government. MORA subsequently adopted a strategy of confidence building with the wafaqs; the government allowed madrassas to provide minimal information on the school's location, staff, student body, curriculum, and general information on finances, with the hope that they could gather more robust data in the future. Secretary Khan told PolOff that 8,656 schools registered with the government following this deal, bringing the total number of registered madrassas to 14,656. Khan said up to an additional 1,000 madrassas may remain unregistered.
The government also has expelled most foreign madrassa students.
10. (C) The government has been less successful, however, in implementing other elements of Musharraf's now-scrapped reform plan, such as legislating the introduction of secular subjects, the creation of a standardized curriculum, and establishment of a government body with authority to grant madrassa diplomas. Secretary Khan said the government shelved the Madrassa Reform Plan (MRP) in late summer of 2007 after the Ministry of Education produced a white-paper concluding the plan had failed; The Secretary added the Ministry of Education had only spent $4 million of the $100 million the government of Pakistan allotted for reform efforts over the past six years. The Secretary noted the wafaqs would be more open to introducing secular subjects, which they already verbally agreed to do, than to conceding the authority to grant madrassa diplomas to the government.
11. (C) The Secretary of MORA said the government scrapped its the MRP because Musharraf did not want to continue pushing contentious reforms ahead of elections. Political fallout from the Islamabad Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation in July 2007, ranging from the Wafaq Madaris' vocal criticism of the government's actions at Lal Masjid, to the government's poorly timed announcement in July 2007 for the creation of a new network of state-sponsored madrassas (Dar Ul Ilm), probably contributed to the government's decision to shelve the MRP as well. Musharraf had put former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in charge of the Dar Ul Ilm project, but the western-oriented Aziz had little credibility with the wafaq community.
12. (C) Secretary Khan was optimistic about legislating other reform initiatives in 2008, but the issues he raised all suggested more challenges ahead. Secretary Kahn noted ongoing bureaucratic squabbles between the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for managing madrassa reforms, and MORA, which has far better relations with the wafaqs, but lacks real authority or jurisdiction over educational matters. Khan also said that the government's failure to provide promised funds to madrassas that had hired teachers to teach secular subjects was hurting Islamabad's credibility with the wafaqs. Khan told PolOff that the Madrassa Education Board will continue to operate in an advisory capacity--and lacks authority to implement reforms--and its success will depend on whether relations remain cordial between the incoming government and the wafaqs.
13. (C) Comment: While the government achieved some modest success in convincing the wafaqs to register the madrassas under their jurisdiction, the government still has a lot of work to do to achieve lasting and successful reform. The government is yet to fully implement Musharraf's 2005 ordinance--settling instead on a gentleman's agreement in which the government tacitly accedes to lax auditing and reporting of financial information in return for the wafaqs participating in the registration drive. Additionally, the government now lacks a reform strategy, and various government Ministries pursue their objectives, if at all, without a coordinating body authorized to take real action. The fate of future madrassa reform rests with the new government that will be formed after the 18 February parliamentary elections. End comment.